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Douglas Forbes

Between late 1972 and early 1974, a serial rapist was terrorizing women in and around Johnson City, Tennessee. Four housewives had been attacked and raped, all while home alone with their children. The women provided descriptions of their rapist with varying levels of detail. The attacker, a white man standing about 5’6” to 5’8” with sideburns, light brown hair, blue eyes, and a mole on his face, used a knife to threaten his victims.

During the period when these crimes were occurring, Douglas MacArthur Forbes, age 34, was working as a mail carrier in Johnson City. Forbes lived in Elizabethton, Tennessee, with his wife Martha and their four young children, and he struggled with paranoid schizophrenia, which had developed during his time in the army. He was generally able to manage his mental health and sought medical help as needed to effectively cope with his mental illness. In July 1974, Forbes was admitted as a patient to receive therapy at a V.A. Hospital near East Tennessee State University. Around that time, someone suggested that Forbes fit the description of the attacker, which prompted the district attorney to drive one of the victims past Forbes at a distance, allowing her to look through binoculars, to determine whether she could identify him as her attacker. The woman positively identified Forbes as the perpetrator.

Forbes was then arrested and placed in police lineups for the other victims of the serial rapist. Two of the three other victims who viewed the lineup agreed that Forbes was their attacker. The other victim did not identify him. In early December 1975, Forbes was put on trial in Washington County for the rape of one of the victims. Forbes had an alibi for the date of this victim’s rape, April 25, 1974. He was on vacation from work that week and had interacted with a friend, who testified at the trial, at his home in Elizabethton on that day. Both Forbes and his wife swore that he had spent the whole day of April 25 at his house. Although Forbes was 6 feet tall – significantly taller than the height supplied by the victims – and despite his alibi, Forbes was convicted of this rape on December 6, 1975 and sentenced to 50 years in prison. When asked by the judge if he had anything to say after his sentencing, Forbes responded: “As God is my savior in heaven, I am not guilty.”

In nearby Carter County, Forbes was then convicted of the rape of one of the other victims and sentenced to ten years in prison, to run consecutive to his 50-year sentence. Facing the rest of his life in prison and already struggling with serious mental illness, Forbes found himself in a horrible situation as the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld his first conviction on appeal.

On June 29, 1980, a rapist fitting the same description struck again in Johnson City, while Forbes languished in prison. The victim’s husband saw a dark Jeep outside his home as he returned late at night and found his wife, screaming and partially clothed after having been attacked while talking on the phone in their bedroom. On the floor of the bedroom was a blue Timex watch, set with the correct time but the wrong date.

Two months later, on August 30, Sergeant Bill Dickover, a police officer investigating this rape, happened to pass a man fitting the description of the rapist climbing into a dark Jeep in Johnson City. Sergeant Dickover traced the license plate of the Jeep, which was registered to David Jerry Williams, a truck driver. Williams was 5’9” and had a mole on his cheek – just as the women had described. Williams was in the station being photographed when his sleeve exposed his wrist and Sergeant Dickover spotted that he was wearing a blue Timex watch – with the correct time but the wrong date. The latest victim was brought in and immediately identified Williams as her attacker. A fingerprint found at the scene matched Williams’s fingerprint as well.

Once he was placed under arrest, David Jerry Williams confessed to the entire string of Johnson City rapes, providing great amounts of accurate detail with regard to each of the crimes.

The parties involved in the original conviction of Douglas Forbes, including the judge and prosecutor, moved quickly to have him released after five years in prison. Forbes was pardoned by Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander on November 24, 1980.

On September 23, 1983, the Tennessee Board of Claims awarded Forbes a lump sum of $150,000 plus $20,000 per month for five years as compensation for his wrongful conviction. Forbes felt this was inadequate given the amount of trauma he had suffered in prison and the mental anguish and depression that he continued to suffer as a result. Two months later, he appealed this award and it was increased to a $250,000 lump sum plus $500 per month for the remainder of his life.

The story of Forbes’s wrongful conviction was made into an ABC television movie called “Convicted,” which aired in May 1986.

Douglas MacArthur Forbes died on March 13, 1999.

– Meghan Barrett Cousino
State:TN
County:Washington
Most Serious Crime:Rape
Reported Crime Date:1974
Convicted:1975
Exonerated:1980
Sentence:50 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:34
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID